Women who lived through a battle with cancer as a child should be advised by doctors to breastfeed if possible, says a new study from St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital researchers. Researcher Susan Ogg said that making women aware of the benefits of breastfeeding should be a standard part of post-cancer diet and lifestyle.
Researchers have estimated that, because of advances in cancer therapy, one in 640 young adults between ages 20 and 39 will be a survivor of childhood cancer. Today, 80 percent of children and adolescents treated for childhood cancers survive. So, many women who become mothers will have survived cancer themselves, researchers suggest, making it important that all soon-to-be mothers are advised of the benefits of breastfeeding for childhood cancer survivors.
Late effects of childhood cancer treatment can include impaired growth and development, organ dysfunction, reproductive difficulties and increased risk of cancer re-occurrence. However, Ogg and her colleagues found that breastfeeding “had the potential to influence positively bone mineral density, metabolic syndrome risk factors, cardiovascular disease and secondary tumors – conditions negatively affected by childhood cancer.” Therefore, researchers concluded that women who have had childhood cancer should be encouraged to breastfeed.
“Alongside advice to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, abstain from smoking, use suitable sun protection, practice safe sex and take part in regular physical activity,” they advised, “women who have survived childhood cancer and are physically able to breastfeed, should be actively encouraged to do so to help protect them against the many lasting effects of cancer treatment.”
Ogg SW et al (2011). Protective effects of breastfeeding for mothers surviving childhood cancer. Journal of Cancer Survivorship. DOI 10.1007/s11764-010-0169-z